A CRUCIAL ELEMENT for any business is to find a niche and make it your own. After all, without any discernible strength, you can hardly hope to attract and retain regular custom.
London-based firm Fitzgerald Law has found a niche; one that has served it so well, in fact, that the 80-strong firm has outgrown its office and is actively searching for a more suitable home.
“We’re bursting at the seams and we have been for a while” managing partner Gabriel Parrish tells Accountancy Age from his firm’s charming, if admittedly rather small Lincoln’s Inn Fields office. “It used to be a town house”, he explains. “We need somewhere at least twice the size. We like where we are, having the park, but we need more room.”
Fitzgerald Law’s particular forte is helping Silicon Valley-based companies expand into the UK and Europe – sometimes without even setting up in the UK first.
As such, FL has a branch in San Francisco, which is typically its North American clients’ first port of call before taking the plunge into the UK or another European destination.
In order to help facilitate that, the firm initially looked to link up with an international network in the hope it could take advantage of local knowledge around the world. That search, though, proved fruitless, and so FL took the bold step of establishing its own accountancy network, called GEA, which now spans some 18 countries and is growing fast.
“We did cast around looking to join a network and we couldn’t find one which was a sufficiently good fit,” says Parrish. “So we decided to start up our own on a best-friends basis.”
FL got in touch with firms it had worked with before, tax advisory and global expansion partner Melissa Christopher adds, establishing the link-up with chosen associates.
“There’s quite a few people we’ve worked with before in various forms [in the network], so we decided to formalise it slightly, without making it subscription, paid-for, ‘you’ve-got-to-do-everything-a-certain-way’,” Christopher adds.
“It’s fairly fluid,” she goes on. “For example, our German member was asking for Asian contacts, and we have some. We’ve got some people in Japan we use, some in China and Hong Kong we’ve spoken to who we wouldn’t really count as fully-fledged GEA members – it depends what you’re using them for – but we certainly keep them on our list of people we use.”
That network, made up by firms offering similar inwards investment services to those provided by FL plays a key role in helping the firm’s clients take their first steps outside the US and/or Canada.
“The intricacies of such an operation are, of course, myriad, and include issues as wide-ranging as payroll, HR and VAT. Of course, all of those elements vary from country to country across Europe; something often not realised in the US, which tends to view Europe as a whole.
“Our typical client is a Silicon Valley company with perhaps a hundred people employed locally, and this is perhaps their first step overseas,” explains Christopher, adding clients tend to “want someone to be their outsourced finance – and sometimes everything else – function”.
“They may have been working through a contractor or an individual they’ve known and decided that, actually, they want to take this person on as their European sales director,” she says. “But he or she may not want the admin of setting up a company and they don’t know how to sort out their payroll or pay invoices and tie it in with what they’re doing in their home office.
“They’ll often start off saying ‘we can do this all from home [US]’, and then they ask ‘how do we do payroll? What’s this VAT thing?’ and suddenly you find you’re doing most or all of it for them, which is often when it works best.”
As the global economy picks up, there the possibility the demand for European expansion from the US will too.
“Ten years ago that [US companies looking expand quickly] happened, then we had a bit of a lull, and now, perhaps, they’re looking to pick up again. I think they’ve wisened up a little [to the intricacies of European laws and requirements].”
For something that has provided a rich seam of business continuously throughout the rather deflated economic times of the last five years, an uptick is an exciting prospect.
“We tend to forget we’re in a really fortunate position in London. It’s a place where people want to come for a variety of reasons,” Parrish considers.
Given that it came through the downturn in rude health, the most pressing issue for the firm is the question of the office; a rather nice post-recession problem to have.
Fitzgerald Law in numbers:
Offices: Three – one in San Francisco, two in UK
Staff: 80, nine partners
Service lines: Corporate assurance, corporate advisory, employee benefits financial services, expatriate tax, financial outsourcing, IT, legal advisory, private client tax, tax advisory, global payroll, fast track incorporation, Tech Focus: Tech City UK
Specialisms: Energy, industrials, extractives environment, financial institutions services, biotechnology life sciences, technology communications, retail brands, travel, tourism leisure
Miscellaneous: FL counts the contestants of BBC programme The Apprentice among its neighbours